The Bluest Eye is a complex, twentieth-century narrative exploring, in part, how perceptions of beauty determine an individual's sense of self-worth and capacity for self-love. Morrison, as events unfold in the life of the novel’s protagonist, Pecola Breedlove, demonstrates that social constructs around beauty disempower and corrupt individuals, especially those who live on the margins of society. Each of the novel’s major conflicts, products of race and class, is interwoven with Pecola’s internal conflict, her unmet desire to be loved by her parents, her friends, her community, and even herself.

The characters around Pecola, as their backstories illustrate, are trapped in their own tragic conflicts. They are products of their own histories, and are, therefore, unable to understand, love, or support Pecola. Like her, they are aware that beauty and attention, according to magazines, newspapers, and window signs, require being "blue-eyed, yellow-haired, [and] pink-skinned." That understanding, which defines personal value, creates each of the conflicts that permeate the lives of the novel’s central characters. They are, by virtue of race and social status, made to feel "ugly," and this self-perception leads to self-hatred and, often, abuse.

Pecola first becomes truly aware of this harsh reality when she goes to the store to buy candy, the plot’s inciting incident. The store’s owner is rude and treats her as if she is not only invisible but untouchable. The owner is white and a respected member of the community, so his rejection confirms what Pecola has just begun to realize: the social construct defining beauty also establishes personal value, deeming blond, blue-eyed, and white girls pretty and worthy, while dark-skinned girls like her are deemed ugly and worthless.

As the narrative’s rising action accelerates toward the eventual climax, Pecola’s feelings of rejection and isolation grow. Her sense of self-worth declines as events reinforce her mistaken idea that appearance defines her value. She understands that Maureen, a lighter-skinned Black girl from a wealthy family, is loved for her appearance. Not only do the boys in the neighborhood share a common crush on Maureen, but even the girls think she is beautiful. Pecola receives a similar message from her own mother. When she burns herself on a cobbler, rather than comforting her, her mother comforts the little white girl, her employer's child. For Pecola, each of these events serves to confirm her feelings that she does not merit affection.

In the novel's climax, Pecola’s father, Cholly, a product of his own past, rapes her and impregnates her. His drunken rage, rooted in feelings similar to those of Pecola about herself, is an expression of his own self-hatred, feelings associated with his mother’s abandonment and his humiliation at the hands of white men. Although he may, in some way, love his wife and daughter, his behavior only serves to reinforce Pecola’s self-perception. She cannot find love, nor does she feel that she deserves it.

In the aftermath of Pecola’s rape, events in the novel’s falling action drive her even further into isolation and feelings of lovelessness. Her mother beats her when she discovers what Cholly has done, and, driven to desperation to become "beautiful" and worthy of affection, Pecola, in an event foreshadowing the conclusion, begins a break from reason altogether. She visits Soaphead Church, a disreputable preacher, and begs him to give her blue eyes. Pregnant and subject to the community’s condemnation, she is left even more isolated and alone.

Pecola’s conflict, in the novel’s disturbing resolution, ends as she descends into madness. Symbolically, she receives her blue eyes; she can no longer perceive the reality that led to her descent. As she embraces the only intimacy she can find, an imaginary friend, she says that others envy her blue eyes, leading them to ostracize her. Claudia, the narrator, concludes that  Pecola's “ugliness” allows others to look better, a claim that maintains the destructive perception of beauty, fed by racial and social prejudice, that has led to Pecola’s downfall in the first place. The world remains as it had been at the novel’s outset, although Pecola, in a tragic sense, has been freed.